"The Rebirth of a Nation?" is an artistic appropriation of D.W. Griffith's infamous "The Birth of a Nation," with its colors inverted. "The Birth of a Nation," originally released on February 8th, 1915, tells the story of two white families, the Camerons and the Stonemans, before, during, and after the American Civil War. Although widely regarded as a technical cinematic achievement, the film is best known for its racist depictions of African-Americans as rapists, hoodlums, and fools, while the Ku Klux Klan is glorified as protectors of white Southern power and honor. For "The Rebirth of a Nation?" the artist inverted the entire film. However, the below link only includes the final, climactic ten minutes of the movie, in which the Ku Klux Klan rescues a Southern town taken over by a carpetbagger governor and a black militia. They save the beautiful Elsie Stoneman from a forced marriage with the mixed-race Silas Lynch, and rescue the Camerons from a cabin where they had taken refuge from the marauding black militia. The clip ends with the Klan's celebrations, and their successful disenfranchisement of the black vote in the next election.
By inverting the film's colors, "The Rebirth of a Nation?" challenges historical and contemporary American racism - including the consistently stereotypical depictions of African-Americans in media. Yet, although the work seems to suggest a violent solution to the dilemma, a closer reading, and the question mark in the title, offer a more subtle analysis. Although the switched colors invert the racial politics of the film - a white militia overtakes the town and threatens black women, only to be defeated by a triumphant black KKK - the title cards which narrate the movie continue to refer to a white Klan and to a vicious black militia. Moreover, although the relative lightness and darkness of each "side" has been inverted, the visibility of race is not so easily switched. Rather than having African-Americans look white, and whites look African-American, both sides seem a strange gray. Racial identity is first inverted, but quickly becomes confused and lost in the contradictory title cards, the grays of the characters' faces, and the otherworldliness of negative film. Instead, the viewer is left with pure racial conflict, cleansed of racial identity - a battle between races without the perceptual frames of race.
"The Rebirth of a Nation?" does not allow for a simple satisfying inversion of power relations - blacks oppressing whites - as a response to the horrific racism of the original film. Indeed, phrased as a question, "The Rebirth of a Nation?" instead troubles the notion that the nationalism of oppressed peoples is an effective form of resistance to tyranny and oppression. Instead, the work demonstrates that resistant nationalist ideologies ultimately only mirror the evils of their own oppressors, eventually leading to further violence and oppression. The conflicted history of the state of Israel is only one example of how the attempts of oppressed peoples to liberate themselves by internalizing and inverting the ideologies of their captors only repeats their suffering. The inversion of "The Birth of a Nation"'s celebration of the disenfranchisement of Southern blacks - so that, instead, Southern whites' voting rights are impeded by a black Klan - feels no more satisfying than the original. "The Rebirth of a Nation?" demonstrates one possibility of national rebirth, but hopes to allow viewers to see the failures of any nationalism, and to inspire them to imagine new forms of resistance, social organization, and identity.